Each generation has its own challenges.
The previous generation faced multiple challenges: the Holocaust, immigration, poverty and discrimination. Much like the biblical character of Job, members of this generation had their faith in God shaken, and so was their faith in mankind. But just like Job, the vast majority of the survivors of the Holocaust held steadfast in their attachment to Judaism, and refused to give up in the face of tragedy. And what this generation has accomplished in the last 70 years is nothing short of remarkable.
The next generation faces very different challenges. While it might sound ironic, they are actually challenged by their comfortable 21st-century upbringing. Studies show that people are less happy today, even though they have so much more. Their struggle with a comfortable life bring to mind the words of Estragon in Waiting for Godot: “What do we do now, now that we are happy?”
This challenge is not new. In the biblical book of Ecclesiastes – Kohelet in Hebrew – Solomon confronts the challenges of comfort. He has everything. He’s a king with an empire and enormous wealth. But because he has everything, he begins to wonder what is the point of it all. Much like Kohelet, the next generation is being challenged by too easy a life, one that’s served to them on a silver platter.
We live in a time when the generation of Job is passing the torch to the generation of Kohelet. And this younger generation, the generation of Kohelet, is searching for meaning and wondering if they will ever measure up. Years ago, one of the younger members of my synagogue remarked to me after a funeral: “Rabbi, what will they say about me at my funeral? I didn’t survive. I didn’t go to war. I wasn’t an immigrant.” How do we transmit the heroic sense of purpose the generation of Job had to the privileged generation of Kohelet?
Simple. We ask them to get on the bus and share the narrative of previous generations.
Daniel Gordis tells a story about a woman he met on a cruise. As the ship was returning to Haifa, the passengers assembled on the deck to look at the approaching port. An older woman next to him remarked: “It’s very moving, isn’t it?” Gordis asked her “Why?” The woman explained she had come to Israel as a teenager during World War II. Her parents had managed to find a way to smuggle one member of their family out of Europe, so they sent their daughter to Israel to survive. She arrived in Israel illegally and was interned by the British. Eventually she was released, and she managed to build a life for herself, even during an era of war, revolution and rationing.
Then came the powerful part of the story. She explained that for her 80th birthday, she decided to take her children and grandchildren for a tour of places she had frequented upon arriving in Israel. The plan was made for the family to meet one morning, presumably in a car or two, to follow her on a tour of her young life in pre-state Israel. The morning of the tour, her son-in-law rang the doorbell. She looks outside, but there were no cars. Instead, there was a bus. In her 60 years in Israel, she had built a large family, and they all wanted to come that morning to learn her story. So they rented a bus to accommodate everyone, including her children and grandchildren, who all wanted to get on the bus.
This is the lesson for my generation and my children’s generation, the generation of Kohelet. We may not be called on to perform acts of heroism like the previous generation, but what we can do is take part of their story.
We can get on the bus.